Apr 112021
 

After a decade of observing the (mostly Europe-based) independent bottlers, I think it can be said with some assurance that they tend to stick with The Tried and True in their first years. In other words, they source and release rums from the canonical distilleries in the familiar countries – Guyana, Barbados, St. Lucia, or Jamaica, with occasional fliers from Belize, Cuba, Fiji, Australia or Trinidad being seen as second order efforts.

When it comes to distinguishing themselves from the herd, few show much real imagination.  Oh, for sure the Compagnie des Indes releases private blends like the Boulet de Canon and Dominador (and released a very fine Indonesian arrack several years ago); Rom Deluxe goes to the max with its massively proofed Jamaican DOK, L’Esprit does some amazing white rums, and several indies find a way to get rums aged for nearly three decades into their bottles – I merely submit this is more and better of the same. Truly new products that showcase something different are actually in rather short supply.

When it comes to doing something original, then, the Boutique-y Rum Company – a division of Atom Brands in the UK, who also run the Masters of Malt website – is one to keep an eye on. Not only are they releasing rums from the “standard” countries, but they seem to really try to go someplace new – consider their Issan rum, the Labourdonnais, the O Reizinho or the Colombian Casa Santana. Those are rums from niche distilleries many have never even heard of before, and to add spice to the mix, there is of course the cool label design done by Jim’ll Paint It which are bright, clever, funny and chock full of little easter eggs for the knowledgeable.

Which leads us to this one. The Engenhos do Norte distillery is located in Madeira, an island considered part of Portugal (even though geographically it’s closer to Africa) and one of the few places outside the French islands that can use the term agricole legally. The rum is derived from cane run through a crusher powered by a steam engine (that’s what the label shows), fermented for about 4-5 days, passed through a columnar barbet still and then left to age in French oak barrels.  So although it doesn’t say so, it’s an aged rhum agricole. 1395 bottles were released, at a firm but not over-strong 48.8%, and the last I checked it was still selling for around forty quid which I think is a pretty good deal

Tasting notes. The nose is nice.  At under 50% not too much sharpness, just a good solid heat, redolent of soda, fanta, coca cola and strawberries.  There’s a trace of coffee and rye bread, and also a nice fruity background of apples, green grapes, yellow mangoes and kiwi fruit.  It develops well and no fault can found with the balance among these disparate elements.

I also like the way it tastes. It’s initially dry and peppery, but also crisp, tasting of marshmallows, and tart white fruits like guavas, Thai mangoes, unripe pears, soursop, papaya, watermelon and pineapple. There’s a nice thread of lemon underneath it all, cumin, vanilla, and a nice touch of brine and olives.  This all leads to a conclusion that is short and easy, redolent mostly of sweet watery fruit with a last musky brine taste, and some more lemon zest. 

In a peculiar way, it reminds me less of a French Island agricole than of a grogue from Cabo Verde.  There’s a sort of easy crispness to the experience, with the herbal notes evident but not as strong and clear and focused as a Martinique rhum is.  For centuries Madeirans drank their rhums unaged and white — of late they have begun to try and develop an aged rum industry and expand beyond the local market which thus far has consumed everything the small distilleries produce.  The development of real blending and ageing skill is still some years in the future, and thus far it’s only the small IBs like Boutique-y that have brought their rums to our attention. But I think that we should keep an eye out for the rhums from Madeira, all of them.  Based on the few I’ve tried, these guys know what they’re doing, know how to make a good rhum, and will be going places in the years to come.

(#812)(84/100)


Other notes

  • For centuries, aside from their famed fortified wines, white rum was all Madeira was known for, and just about all of it was made from small family-owned sugar cane plots, consumed locally as ponchos, and as often considered to be moonshine as a legitimate product. Because of the small size of the island a landed aristocracy based on the system of large plantations never took off there. 6-8 years ago, the Portuguese government started to incentivize the production of aged rum on Madeira.  Several producers started laying down barrels to age, one of which was Engenhos do Norte – however the lack of an export market (for now) allowed Boutique-y to buy a few barrels and release them
  • Engenhos do Norte also produces the well regarded Rum North series of rums, as well as the 970 and 980 brands.
  • The label is somewhat self explanatory: it shows the premises of the distillery, the steam driven crusher and the barbet column still. The polar bears are an in-joke: sugar cultivation took off in Madeira in the 15th and 16th century and was called ouro branco – white gold. It’s long been a sly pun that when mumbled over the roar of the machinery, the phrase is heard as ursa branco, or white bear. On the other hand, some say that Madeirans are huge hulking bear like men who hand harvest ten acres of cane before breakfast and fetch it out one-handed to the factory and this is a way of honouring their physical prowess. I don’t know which is true, but I like both stories.
Apr 082021
 

2016 seems like such a long time ago with respect to Hampden rums.  Back then we got them in dribs and drabs, from scotch whisky makers (who could rarely be bothered to mention the distillery) and the occasional indie bottler like Berry Bros. & Rudd, Compagnie des Indes, Rom Deluxe, Renegade or Murray McDavid. That all changed in 2018 when Velier concluded a deal to be their worldwide distributor and the PR machine roared into overdrive.  Since then, Hampden has become one of the boutique rums du jour, and they sell out almost as fast as the Foursquare ECS rums.

Back in 2016, though, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Hampden was known to the cognoscenti of course, those superdorks who paid close attention to the indie scene, knew their Caribbean distilleries cold and bought everything they could…but not many others from the larger mass market cared enough about it; and anyway, supplies were always low. The distillery was ageing its own stock and continued to sell bulk abroad, so most independents sourced from Europe. That’s how SBS, the geek-run rum arm of the Danish distribution partnership 1423, picked up this barrel.

SBS itself was only created in 2015, seven years after its parent came into being, to cater to the boys’ fascination and love for pure rums. Their business had gone well by this time and they decided to branch out into their first love – “our core DNA,” as Joshua Singh remarked to me – single barrel rums. And they picked up this continentally aged rum which had been distilled in Hampden’s pot still in September 2000 and bottled it in October 2016 in time for the European festival circuit, which is where my rum tooth fair Nicolai Wachmann picked it up and passed some on to me. 202 bottles of this 16 year old rum came out of the barrel and was left as is, at a cask strength of 58.9%.

Clearly, with the explosion of interest in both the SBS range and Hampden over the years, this is something of a find. It’s quite rare, seems to be relatively unknown, and has only turned up once at auction that I could find, and fetched a cool £150 when it did.  But when I tasted it, I thought to myself that these guys knew their sh*t, and chose well.  Consider the opening salvo of the nose – it felt like the Savanna 10YO HERR all over again (and that’s a serious compliment).  It had esters puffing and squirting in all directions, very light and clean.  A warm exhalation of rubber on a hot day, dunder and funk, formed a bed upon which sparkling notes of red currants, strawberries, crisp yellow mangoes, unsweetened yoghurt and over-sweet bubble gum competed for attention. It had that kind of cloying sweet to it, leavened with some sharper brine and olives and rye bread left to go bad and was the diametrical opposite of the rather dour and dark Caronis or PM Demeraras.

It was, however, on the plate, that it shone. This was a rum to savour, to enjoy, to treasure.  It was a solid, serious rum of surprising complexity: just shy of hot, tasting of brine, avocados, kräuterquark, salt crackers, interspersed with pineapple slices, kiwi fruits and the tartness of unripe peaches and more mangoes.  There was a wisp of vanilla in there, some faint white chocolate and nuts and caramel ice cream that somehow stopped just short of softening things too much, and allowed the crisp tartness to remain.  As for the finish, it didn’t falter – it was long and hot (in a good way), and reminded me again of the HERR, though perhaps it was a shade deeper, tasting nicely of salted caramel, bananas, pineapples, fanta, cinnamon and lemon peel.

In short, quite a serious all-round rum, not quite so savage as to scare anyone away, while powerful enough to distinguish it from standard strength rums aimed at the larger non-expert rum drinking audience. 58.9% is a near perfect strength for it, permitting full enjoyment of the nuances without any pain. Could it be mixed? Probably…though I wouldn’t. Hampden has always managed to produce rums that — whether aged in Jamaica or in Europe — set the bar a bit higher than most others; and though nobody comes right out and says so, part of the attraction of a rum so bursting with flavours is to have it neat and wring every tasting detail from every drop. This is the way most people speak of Hampden rums now that Velier is distributing them, but it was no less true in 2016. 1423 sure picked a winner that year.

(#811)(88/100)

Apr 042021
 

Back in 2019 before the world changed, I was fortunate enough (and for the first time ever), to get a “blogger” badge at the Berlin Rumfest.  This did not, of course, class with the far cooler “Exhibitor” or “Judge” badge that others ostentatiously wore front and center.  Nor did it come with any kind of perks: I did not get let in free; it conferred no free samples or extra goodies; I was not plied with hats, shirts, glasses, and the thing absolutely did not give free entrance to master classes and seminars. In fact, it was so small and drab it could almost be overlooked altogether. Yet I was inordinately proud that I had one, and preened to all and sundry until I was brought down to earth by (who else?) The Little Caner, who asked in that ego-deflating manner he has perfected from his old age of fourteen, what it was good for.

In fine, just one thing: it allowed me to get in one hour earlier than everyone else, and since I usually try to arrive at the opening bell, this was a godsend, because it meant I could talk to some of the busier booth people without a crowd, before they got distracted. So there I was at 11a.m. on a sunny Sunday morning looking for old friends and new ones, and spotted Benoit Bail over at the Saint James stand.  He was talking with Marc Sassier (the resident oenologist who is in charge of production at Saint James on Martinique) — I wandered over to say hello, and we started talking about white rhums, of which three examples were on the tabletop.

Now, I had tried that shudderingly powerful 60º colourless Hammer of Thor that was the Coeur de Chauffe earlier that year and Marc allowed it was definitely deserving of all the plaudits (it was a non-AOC pot-still white, unusual for Martinique). “But you should try the other two as well,” he said, pointing to the bottles. My eye went first to the frosted bottle of the 50% Fleur de Canne, and he suggested I try it after the 40% red-lettered version. “Forget the Imperial name,” he told me, “This rhum is the original, just watered down for the bartenders circuit. Good to start you off.”

“So, not a sipping rum?” I asked

Everyone laughed. “They are all sipping rums to someone,” Marc smiled, and he and Benoit courteously left me to try the soft white rhum. 

And indeed, I enjoyed the nose immensely – it had a nice lemony and herbal opening, like rain on freshly mown grass on a hot clear day. You could almost smell the sunlight. It had all the hallmarks of a really well made agricole rhum: herbs, dill, parsley and a trace of coriander; crisp cucumbers in sweet apple cider, with a red sweet pepper dropped in for kick. A lovely, clean aroma of a natural product.

I looked up from my note-taking. “All the usual?” I called over. “Cane juice, crushing within 48 hours of harvest, quick fermentation, creole still?” 

Marc looked highly amused. “It would not have the “AOC” on the label without it,” he pointed out. And of course he was right: that appellation is very strict and fiercely adhered to — Saint James would hardly mess around with it. “Just checking,” I said, glad he wasn’t offended — maybe he knew me well enough from my writing to understand why I’d ask the question. He went back to his conversation, and I went back to my tasting.

I liked the palate, but here the softening to 40% and its more uncouth nature worked against it, and it lacked something of the finesse I expect from a well-made white. Now, the grassy, tangy freshness of the nose carried over – it was just weak and lacked the assertiveness that would make a statement and allow the flavours to pop. That said, there was some roughness in the notes of lime, bitters, tart fruits, sugar cane sap and green apples which was evident on the neat pour, and it was quickly over. The finish was as crisp and short, and as sharp as Mrs. Caner’s criticisms of my many failings…but it must be said that many of the aromas of the nose – tart apples, grass, dill, lemongrass – carry through. “It’s quite an experience,” I remarked later to Benoit and Mark, when we were discussing the rhums.

Saint James has a range of what some generously refer to as “starter” or “cocktail” rums. The Imperial Blanc, the first of these, retails for around €20, and is succeeded up the price and value chain by the Royal Blanc Agricole (50º, also red lettered label), then the blue-letter variation of the Rhum Blanc Agricole 55º and the rather more upscale frosted bottle of the Fleur de Canne (50º) which is sort of a special edition white, the last of the column-still unaged blancs before the Coeur de Chauffe blows them all into next week.

I’ve tried quite a few of these whites from the company, and the thing is, what impresses about the Imperial is its cost benefit ratio — it tastes well and noses even better for the first and cheapest rhum in that lineup. The profile is reasonably good, isn’t strong enough to offend or frighten, and provides most of what is required of a low-level intro to unaged agricoles.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes a great Ti’ punch – you need to go to 50º for that to happen, and Clement and Damoiseau provide stiff competition as well – but its very good at providing a flavourful jolt to whatever you feel like adding it to, even at standard strength.  So while I wouldn’t say it’s a key rum of any kind, it certainly is tailor made for bars, and for anyone of lean purse who wants to start working on his knowledge of the blanc side. 

(#810)(80/100)

Mar 302021
 


The site is completely functional and you can read and access everything through the menus above – but navigation via the links, categories, tags and so on, is currently non-functional and being repaired. That’s a lot of work and will take several weeks, even a month or two. When this sign disappears, it will all be fixed.  Sorry about the inconvenience.

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Mar 292021
 

 

Indonesia is the region where sugar cane originated and gave rise to the proto-rums of yesteryear, which have their genesis in arrack, a distillate first identified by the Dutch and Portuguese in the town of Batavia (now Jakarta, the capital). After being practically unknown to the larger rum drinking public for a long time, arrack and local rums are now slowly being shown to western audiences, most notably from By The Dutch and their Batavia Arrack, and the little company of Naga which produced the rum we’re looking at today.

Based in Indonesia, Naga is a rum company formed around 2016 by Sebastien Follope, another one of those roving, spirits-loving French entrepreneurs who are behind some of the most interesting Asian rums around (Chalong Bay, Issan and Sampan are examples). While small, the company has several rums in its eclectic portfolio, though they lack any distillation facilities of their own – they are buying from a distillery on Java on the outskirts of Jakarta, which cannot be named.

This particular rum is called the Triple Wood for good reason – it is aged in three different kinds of barrels, and is an extension of the “Double Cask Aged” rum we have looked at twice before – once under that name in 2018, and once as the “Java Reserve Double Aged rum” a year later. The triple wood is similarly a molasses-based rum, column-still distilled, aged for three years in barrels made of teak (also called jati), four years in ex-Bourbon and one more year in cherry-wood barrels – it is, therefore, eight years old. Since the company was only formed in 2016 and this rum came on the scene in 2018, it is clear that the first ageing and part of the second was done at the distillery of origin (or a broker, it’s unclear).

Does this multiple wood ageing result in anything worth drinking? Yes it does – the extra year seems to have had an interesting and salutary effect on the profile –  though at 42.7% it remains as easy and soft as its siblings.  The nose, for example, is a nice step up: cardboard, musty paper, some dunder of spoiled bananas skins, plus strawberries and soft pineapple or two and brine (which, I swear, made me think of Hawaiian pizza). Caramel and bitter dark chocolate round things off.  It’s a relatively easy sniff, inoffensive yet solid.

The palate is goes on to be warm, soft, and somewhat sweeter.  Initially, given its puffed cloudy vagueness, you’d think it’s simple and amorphous, but actually it just keeps improving over time – the rum unfolds like a small origami flower, gradually – even shyly – presenting floral tastes, molasses, toffee, nougat, breakfast spices, licorice and some watery background of melons and pears.  It’s easy and very relaxing to sip, because the flavours don’t come at you all at once, but kind of stroll past doing a slow ragtime.  That low strength, much as I usually prefer something stronger, really is probably right for what that taste is, but it must also be admitted it makes for a weak finish: clean and easy, just not much more than some light flowers, strawberries and bubble gum, fanta, light molasses, and a bit of musty and dust-filled rooms.

I quite liked the rum and enjoyed its low-key, tasty nature, so different from the more aggressive high-proof rums I’ve been seeing of late – after all, one doesn’t always a need a massive overproof squirting dunder, alcohol and pain in all directions.  And arrack, this rum’s progenitor, is an interesting variation on what a rum can be (as an example, fermented rice is usually added to the fermenting molasses – see other notes for more details) which is something worth taking note of and these times of dominance by famed Caribbean distilleries. There’s no question that it’s a somewhat different kind of rum, more representative of its region than of any “standard” kind of profile – but for those who are okay trying something different, it won’t disappoint.

(#809)(81/100)

 


Other Notes

  • Naga is a Sanskrit-based word referring to the mythical creature of Asia, a dragon or large snake, that guards the treasures of the earth, and is also a symbol of prosperity and protection
  • This rum is now named “Pearl of Jakarta.”
  • Production:
    • Fermentation of molasses and fermented red rice in teak vats up to
    • 12% ABV.
    • 52% of this “cane wine” then distilled in traditional Chinese stills to 30% ABV. It is then distilled in these same stills a second time, until it reaches 60-65%.
    • 48% of the “cane wine” distilled in a column still to 92% ABV. 
    • The rums obtained in this way are then blended and aged for 3 years in teak barrels, then transferred to American oak barrels (ex-bourbon barrels) for 4 years before ageing for one final year in cherry wood barrels.
Nov 242015
 

Port Mourant 1974 cropRumaniacs Review 012 | 0412

The Velier retrospectives continue.  So sad they’re out of production, and that DDL aren’t letting Luca take any more barrels from their old stocks.  The dinosaurs like this one continue to be collector’s items…the good Lord only knows where the 1972 is at these days. I last looked at this lovely rum back in 2013, when I was able to get a bottle into Calgary (bought in 2012, don’t get me started on the headaches that took), and its rep has only grown since then.

Colour – mahogany

Strength 54.5%

Nose – Just lovely, so very distinctive. The DDL Single Barrel PM is both younger and less intense, and showcases what they could do if they had the courage Velier displayed here. Cardboard, anise, cherries and prunes lead off. That characteristic dark licorice and raisins emerge over time, even the tang of some balsamic vinegar, and wafting through all that is the smell of musty old books.  That may not sound appealing, but trust me on this…it is.

Palate – All we have expected, all we have been led to await, comes straight to the fore here. It’s like all PMs ever made, just a bit boosted and with a character just individual enough to be its own. Heated and a little jagged, smoothening out only after a few minutes. Licorice, tar and the fruity mix inside a dark black cake.  Part of what makes this rum so impressive is the overall texture – luscious may under-describe how well the PM melds on the tongue.  With water, some sweetness creeps slyly in, caramel and toffee and cinnamon emerge, and though it is somewhat dry, what we are left with is the fruits, the wood, the tar, the magical amalgam that spells Port Mourant.

Finish – less succulent than I recalled…it’s a little bit dry, and very nicely heated.  Even at 54.5% (which may be the perfect strength for what has been bottled), the fade goes on for ages, leaving some cinnamon, anise, light brown sugar and almonds to remind you to have some more.

Thoughts – A solid, fantastic old rum, one of those aged offerings that sets its own standards, and against which other PMs are measured. I’d never say no to another bottle, or even another taste. And I’ll never stop complaining to DDL that this is where they should put some effort.

(90/100)

Nov 082015
 

UF30E 1985 cropRumaniacs Review 011 | 0411

Time to address the brontosaurii of Velier for a few Rumaniacs write ups, since the samples are there. UF30E is a bit “young” for inclusion into the Rumaniacs pantheon, but it is out of production, so let’s have it. The code stands for Uitvlugt Field #30 East, or some such, which would puzzle even someone from Mudland (like, umm…well, me).  Never mind.  With an outturn of 814 bottles from three barrels, it remains one of the best rums from Velier I’ve ever sampled.  And while I thought had overpraised it back in 2013, it turns out I may have sold it short, given others’ responses to it in the years between then and now.

Colour – darkish amber

Strength – 60.7%

Nose – Nothing changed between then and now…it’s still amazing.  Heated, dark, viscous, heavy on the nose, molasses, prunes, dark chopped fruit, blackcurrants,  dates, and black cake. After opening somewhat, these opening salvoes were followed by lighter tones of flowers, chocolate, some anise. Rich and powerful and not at all astringent or bitchy.

Palate – The balance of the various components competing for your olfactory and labial attention is extraordinary. The  Velier PM 1974 is fantastic too, but for different reasons, and something of a one-trick pony in comparison to the sheer variety that was going on here: sweet and salt, teriyaki chicken (minus the bird but with all the veg), molasses, more fruits, green apples, a little smoke and leather and aromatic cigarillos, and those aromatic hints of what, rosewater? orange juice?  Whatever it was, it was great. Even 60.7%, which would normally scare the trees into shedding their autumn leaves, was remarkably well handled.  You got hit with the power, sure…you didn’t mind it, is all.

Finish – sums up everything that has come before.  Long, lasting and pungent, not dry. Nuts, flowers, some sweet soya, molasses, a shade of caramel. The thing doesn’t want to leave, honestly.

Thoughts – Brilliant all-round rum which pushes all the right buttons for me. Still makes me regret I didn’t buy more when I had the chance. Since it was issued back in 2011 with a reasonable outturn, it’s probably more than likely it’s still available somewhere.

(92/100)

Oct 282015
 

Saint James 1885 cropRumanicas Review 010 | 0410

Yes, you read that right. 1885.  Holy molasses this thing is old. How can anyone even begin to assess a spirit that was made so incredibly long ago? I’m literally in awe.

What was going on back then anyway? Sino French war in Vietnam; the Mahdist army overran Khartoum and killed General Gordon; AT&T was incorporated in New York; Gottlieb Daimler patented his engine; the North West rebellion in Canada; the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York harbour; the Third Anglo-Burmese war…and St. James began bottling its vintages that year, same year as they introduced the square bottle. It may be the very first ever made, anywhere.

At around £6000 per bottle, all one can say is “ouch,” be grateful for the sample, and dive in on bended knee with head reverently bowed.

Colour – dark brown, almost black

Strength – 43%

Nose – Dark dark dark and so very plush. Made me feel I was sinking into an old Chesterfield. Plums, dark grapes, figs and black olives without the salt. Some vegetal in the background (really far in the bushes). Deep and thick, smoky, dusty.  Not very sugary at all, and had some essence of tart and juicy overripe pears. Then soy sauce and teriyaki, mixed with dark molasses soaked brown sugar. Fresh and heavy, both at the same time.

Palate – Warm, full-bodied, thick and heavy. Must have been made before the French islands moved full time to cane juice. Dark prunes and cherries in syrup…and yet, and yet…where’s the sugar? Treacle, bitter chocolate, pancakes and maple syrup, a cereal note in there somewhere, maybe rye bread. Molasses, plums and pomegranates, a flirt of anise, some oakiness but nothing excessive. Incredibly deep and tasty, amazingly well balanced.

Finish – Short and warm.  Some last notes of licorice, molasses and raisins, and some dry earthy mustiness to wrap it all up.

Thoughts – It was a fantastic rhum (rum?). Can’t imagine what a more leisurely tasting spanning many days would be like.  The depth of the thing is amazing, and I felt it worked well even for a more modern palate: it was quite a remarkably rich and complex beast, and it felt almost sacrilegious to drink it at all.

Other – No idea how long it was aged prior to bottling. According to Antique wines & Spirits, it was bottled in 1952. Can it truly be 67 years old? No, not really.  According to Benoît Bail who spoke to the master blender at St. James, all the 1885 stocks were in fact destroyed in the eruption of Pelee in 1902.  Some bottles of the 1885 were over in Europe and Cointreau (when they took over the distillery), was able to locate many of them in Amsterdam, Paris and London, and sent them back to Martinique, where there were still on sale at St. James into the 1990s. The master blender was of the opinion that the rhum itself was/is 8-10 years old, not more.

Also, the different taste of the rums from that time (until the 1930s) arises because the cane juice was heated (not boiled) at around 40°C before fermenting it. Pasteurization, you see, had not yet made a big splash and large steel tanks were not common.

I heard that Luca Gargano of Velier bought 300 bottles of this as an investment kin the 1980s.  I can just marvel at the perspicacity and far-sightedness of the man.

(90/100)

See also: Cecil’s (French) review on DuRhum is also pretty good.

Oct 192015
 

Bally - 6 ans 1Rumanicas Review 009 | 0409

Oh, tough one to research.  Loads of 1929 and 1930s photos out there, rien on this one. Not a millesime, because J. Bally helpfully places the year on that little smiley label at the top for those.  But with that fading old-style label, maybe pre-1980s?  Earlier? Not sure.  Still, J. Bally’s original domicile on Plantation Lajus du Carbet was closed back in 1989 (current rhums are made at a consolidated site at Plantation Simon using the original recipe), so at least we have something suitably aged here.  Whatever.  It was a neat little piece of history to be trying.  Note the cheap tinfoil cap, which perhaps says something about the makers’ esteem for their own product, back in the day…makes a man happy for modern plastic. I spoke to the company history a little here.

Colour – Dark Amber/Mahogany

Strength – 45%

Nose – Heated, not sharp. Very fruity, dark stuff, at the edge of over-ripeness.  Rich and fragrant and oh-so nice. Ripe peaches and plums; apricots just starting to go like an ageing strumpet past her prime; coconut shavings and a squirt of lime juice over the lot.  Also a faint background of musky brininess and sugar, like tequila.

Palate – Nice! Medium to full bodied, firm, warm and silky to taste. Dusty old books, dark sweet chocolate (RitterSport “rum, raisins and hazelnuts,” maybe that was it). More plums, plus some squashy blueberries, plus the taste of cumin and coriander and the same salt-sweet mustiness from the nose.  All in all, very tasty, and had sufficiently heated silky mouthfeel to make it an pretty good rhum, even for only six years ageing.

Finish – warm and lasting. Great black cake and tequila closing notes.  Somehow they didn’t interfere with each other (not always the case).

Thoughts – Wish I knew when it was made.  Actually, I wish I had the whole damned bottle.

(84/100)

 

 

 

Aug 062015
 

La Favorite 1990 - box

Rumaniacs Review 008 | 0408

Founded in 1842 and remaining a small family owned outfit in Martinique, La Favorite makes this AOC designated rhum vieux, aged a minimum of three years (I’ve been told it is five years old).  They make a big deal of the transmission of distillation technique and blending from father to son, as well as their selection of only the best cane, the natural fermentation, and controlled distillation (using steam powered equipment).  I’ve gone into the history of the company a little more here.

This gold rhum derives from pot still, issued at 40% in 1990.  One wonders why they didn’t keep it longer, if the year was such a good one.  And what’s with the cheap tinfoil cap?

Colour – Amber-Dark Gold

Nose – Wow. A very punchy, pot still profile (almost like a clairin with a tan). Pungent, briny, oily, chewy. Like a pail of salted beef. Grassy and green mango hints permeate here and there. Morphs well into black cake, chopped dark fruit (prunes, black grapes) and olives. More than 40% might have been too much, and I don’t say that very often.

Palate – A bit raw, toasty and spicy. Rubber and plasticine.  Emergent deep notes of black olives, dates, cereal, caramel, vanilla and smoke (in that order, for me). With water, an amazing thread of green apples and citrus, tart lemon zest (like a meringue), yet the dusky brine never entirely leaves the profile.

Finish – Medium short and warm, not dry at all. Some of that saltiness continues, but mostly wax and lemon and some unsweetened caramel

Thoughts – Unusual, in a good way. Really a lot of flavour here. This is one of those times I think 40% is okay. Stronger would have been more intense yes, but might also have shredded the balance of sweet, salt, grass and citrus.

(83/100)

La Favorite 1990

Jul 142015
 

Nicholson 42,8°

Rumaniacs Review 007 | 0407

Bottled by J&W Nicholson of Clerkenwell, London, back in the 1970s. Base stock is unknown – it might be from Caroni, yet somehow I doubt that – it lacks something of the tarry background.  No information is available on age or blend of ages. Bottled at 42.8%.

J&W Nicholson was a gin maker which opened its doors in the 1730s. They ceased UK gin production in 1941 (wartime rationing made it impractical) and sold their facility there in 1966, eventually selling the remaining business to the Distillers Company Ltd in the 1970s…at first I thought this rum seems to be an effort to diversify production as a consequence of the economic hardship which forced the sale, but further reading shows the company had been issuing rums for more than a century before. Distillers Company sold out to Guinness in 1986, and the DCL brand was in turn consolidated by Diageo in 1997.

Colour – dark brown

Nose – Fairly soft and warm. Initial aromas of butterscotch and eclairs.  Salty butter.  Caramel. Faint whiff of meatiness, a musky taint of mushrooms, and fruit starting to go.

Palate – Medium heavy, still warm and a little sharp, not unpleasantly so. Creamy and also a little musty, like a room left unaired for too long.  Coconut shavings, caramel, brown sugar predominate.  With water, coconut recedes, and smoke and dry leather come forward, along with cloves and a bit of cinnamon. That salted butter and musky background never entirely disappears.  Odd mix of tastes, all in all. No tar and asphalt notes make themselves known, supporting my contention this was unlikely to be a Caroni.

Finish – Short and smooth, heated….some crushed walnuts and toffee there, with a last flirt of mustiness and smoke.

Thoughts – Nothing special.  At best it’s a five-to-eight year old. It’s not really complex or world beating, and not a sipper’s dream by any stretch.  The nose is the oddest thing about it since it seems to stand quite separate from the way it tastes when you drink it.  But overall, a decent enough rum, quite pleasant. I liked the history of the company almost more than the rum.

 

(81/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

 

 

Nicholson Rum

Jul 072015
 

LaMartiniquaise Rhum 1950-001

Rumaniacs Review 006 | 0406

This brand no longer exists, but the company (La Martiniquaise) formed in 1934, still does. My research turned up not only this photo from the 1940s/1950s edition, but an even older bottle from the 1850s (which sells for four thousand quid on oldliquors.com…ouch!).  Produced by L.M. Charenton le Pont from rhum imported from Martinique, then aged and bottled in France. The Sage said it was a 1950s rhum while others suggest 1940s, I trend to the latter here. 40%

Colour – Dark amber.

Nose – Rich, clean, warm.  Like a clear, clean cognac…nice. Earthy. Cinnamon, cloves, caramel and burnt sugar.  A sort of sharp thread of spice runs through this thing, added to honey and syrup over pancakes.

Palate – After the colour and nose, not quite as heavy as expected to taste. Still, maybe some molasses or syrup crept in here somewhere.  Smoke, sawdust, anise, licorice.  Cloves and caramel and more licorice emerge with a drop of water.  Aside from some raisins, fruity notes surprisingly absent.  Some green olives in brine.  At the back end, slight bitterness of gone-off caramel, vanilla and charred wood

Finish – Shortish, warm, smooth.  Caramel and vanilla dominate, with smoke and tobacco closing up the shop.

Thoughts – Really like this one. The depth and anise notes remind me of Damoiseau, or Courcelles. It may have been a rhum for the proles back in the day, but its quality is way above that. Wish it was a bit stronger….at 45% or so this thing would have been exceptional.

(85/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

La Martiniquaise

Jun 292015
 
Barbancourt 15

Photo courtesy of The Whisky Exchange

Rumaniacs Review 005 | 0405

The forerunner of the still excellent fifteen year old rhum made in Haiti to this day, this one was generated in the 1970s, and it’s a pretty good rhum even after a remove of so many years.  Pot still 43%, about 15,000 bottles were issued according to The Sage, while The Whisky Exchange says 20,000…doesn’t matter, they’re rare as hen’s teeth these days anyway.  I think the recipe they used then is a little different than the current iteration of the 15, but not by much.  Note also the similarity of the box to today’s edition.

Nose: Oddly thin and discombobulated. Spicy, not too much. Nuts, caramel, port infused pipe tobacco, black grapes, some zest. Gets easier as you keep at it, rewards some patience and savouring.

Palate: Light bodied yet not anorexically thin, thank God (hate those). Some beef and biceps kept under velvet sleeves – 43% is great here.  Not quite a molasses background, but some – caramel, vanilla, toffee, crushed walnuts, ice cream without enough cream. Black grapes continue, red guavas, some anise and fennel and black tea (without sugar).  A shade too thin, really – still, you can’t fault the fact that it’s delicious.

Finish: Medium short, unremarkable.  Nothing more than the aforementioned spices and toffee to report. Goes down nicely, and at least it doesn’t hate you.

Thoughts: Amazing how consistent this is in quality to the current 15 year old, which I quite liked. Still, tasted after the >25 Year Old Veronelli, you can sense the difference. Surprised this was/is a cane juice product — has elements that hearken more to molasses, but what do I know?  A pretty good all-round rhum in all times, in all worlds.

(83/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

Barbancourt 1970s 15 yr old

Jun 062015
 

IMG_6970_2Rumaniacs Review 004 | 0404

First rum I drank back in the day.  Was working in the interior of Guyana for gold exploration companies at the time; every Saturday evening, a couple of bottles of this stuff were trotted out for us to get hammered on. We drank it swiftly, continuously, copiously and without a care for quality. This one is supposedly fruit cured…not that I noticed much of that.

Nose: Thin, sharp. Coconut shavings, swiftly disappearing.  Faint caramel and vanilla. Nuts. Anise, but not much. Raisins, red guavas and grapes waved at me, but kept way back.

Palate: Light bodied, hay coloured 40%, almost not a Demerara at all.  Thin and sharp. White flowers, more coconut, a few fruity notes, peaches and cream with a dusting of cinnamon.  Some mangos, raisins and black currants at the backend. A bit sweet, hardly noticeable.  There’s not enough going on here to care, really. It’s all very underwhelming

Finish: Short, sharp and dismissive. Almost nothing to discern here at all beyond scraping heat and dark sugar and licorice.

Thoughts: A throwaway rum, for mixing, I suppose.  I remember it being a lot more raw and pestilential.  No notes on ageing provided, but methinks it’s a really young ‘un…at best a five year old. In between grumbling that nobody ever thought to keep any of these rums for heritage purposes (people were to busy drinking the stuff) Carl Kanto remarked to me that there were aged variations of the King of Diamonds, and they evolved into the El Dorado line in the 1990s.  For my money (speaking metaphorically), this wasn’t one of them…if one could ever be found, I suppose you could buy it for historical value.

(75/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid
May 282015
 
rhum-barbancourt-reserve-veronelli-over-25-years-old-rum-003

Photo shamelessly cribbed from Lo Spirito Dei Tempi

Rumaniacs Review 003 | 0403

A craft bottling from 1977, made by Luigi Veronelli of Milan, who had visited Haiti and was so impressed with the Big B, he was granted permission to take a few barrels.  Outturn 1196 bottles, 43%.  Note the age statement…greater than 25 years.  One can only sigh with envy.

Nowadays, fresh pressed cane juice is no longer used to make Barbancourt rums, but reduced syrup; and the old Charentaise still is gone, replaced by more modern apparatus.  This allows greater volume, but perhaps some of the older taste profile has been sacrificed, as this rum implies.

Nose: Rich, very warm, not quite spicy. Nuts, caramel, coconut shavings, black grapes.  Faint mint and hot tea. Excellent stuff.  Invites further nosing almost as of right.

Palate: Medium to light body.  Remarkably smooth, wish it had been a bit less thin. Fruity, of the just ripening, sharp kind – grapes, apples just sliced…wtf?  Let me check that again. Mmm…yes, it was as I said.  Also: the watery clarity of peeled cucumbers (no, really); more tea, some smoke, faint vanilla, toffee, nougat and caramel, but also well melded with more “standard” agricole flavours of grass, green tea.  Really goes down well.  Perhaps I was wrong, though…let’s try another sip.  Nope, still good.

Finish: Not too long.  Some last smoky, aromatic tobacco notes, a bit of dried fruit. You can help it along with another taste. Perhaps three. A rum this old and this rare deserves to be generously sampled.  All in the name of science, of course.

Thoughts: there’s a subterranean voluptuousness, a complex richness coiling inside this rum that I cannot recall from the current stable of Barbancourt’s products, even the 15 year old. Maybe it was the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of Barbancourt’s old stock; maybe it’s the still; maybe it’s just the history. Whatever the case, I understand why so many Europeans on a grail quest for it.

(89/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

ru0267e1160-22_IM167043

D3S_1676

May 242015
 
Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

***

Rumaniacs Review 002 | 0402

I looked at the Skeldon 1973 in detail a while back.  Since an extra sample came my way I re-tasted and have added it to the Rumaniacs lineup.  Still a fantastic rum, just about unavailable now except to the fortunate few with very deep pockets.

Distilled in the Skeldon estate on the Corentyne coast in Guyana in April 2005 from a Coffey still. 4 barrels, outturn 544 bottles.

Nose: Pungent and rich to a fault; coffee, burnt sugar cane fields, brown sugar, tons of licorice, fleshy fruit (peaches, prunes, black grapes), honey. Mocha, walnuts, toasted rye bread. Let this one breathe, it only gets better.

Palate: Mahogany coloured, heavy rum. Demerara style, no doubt, but at 32 years, can you expect different? The 60.5% proof has been well tamed. Smooth and tasty, excellent mouthfeel. Rye bread with creamy butter, some musky earthy tones there. Tobacco, molasses, licorice, smoke can be discerned.  Add water here, for this strength it’s advised. Walnuts, almonds, cocoa, the sharper flirt of eucalyptus and marzipan emerge. Spectacular to feel and to sense.

Finish: Long long long. Coffee, smoke, tannins and hazelnuts round things off. Leave the empty glass standing – the aromas deepen and thicken inside, and a day later you can still enjoy a sniff

Thoughts: as good as I remember, as complex, as rich, as wonderful.  It’s heartbreaking to know how little of this is left. One of Luca’s real gems.

(93/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid.
May 202015
 

Trois Rivieres 1977

***

Rumaniacs Review 001 | 0401

Not entirely sure how old this is…I think it was bottled in 2000 or so, making it at least a twenty three year old. AOC controlled from Martinique, pot-still-made from cane juice (of course).

Nose: Bright, flowery, quite spicy, but also very clean.  Cinnamon, breakfast spices, cloves, some dried fruits (banana, fleshy pears just starting to go).  All this is shouldered aside by a rather startling brininess and musty vegetal pungency after a while…y’know, like cardboard in an old, unaired cellar.  Not unpleasant, but not your standard fare either

Taste: Oh, nice, very well put together.  Again dry and vegetal (the nose wasn’t lying), even a bit minty. Warm and assertive, and enough potency to make you think it was actually stronger. Anise, citrus peel, more spices, sushi (maybe seaweed). Somehow all these things work reasonably well together.  Didn’t bother adding water on this go-around – at 43%, didn’t really want to.

Finish: Long, aromatic, dry; that anise/licorice starts to come forward at the back end, isn’t balanced as well with other notes as it could have been.

Thoughts: Great, complex nose, quite a smorgasbord on the palate, an agricole all the way through.

(85/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid.

Trois Riviere 1977

Trois Rivieres 1977

Jun 012010
 

This review was written in 2010 for the online rum magazine Rum Connection, and I add it here for completeness.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted that the rich are different from you and me. The same could possibly be said of premium rums at the top of the scale. They are so different, represent such an investment of time and effort, and are usually in such short supply that they come to represent something of the pinnacle of achievement in rum blending and production. Something rarefied, something out of the ordinary box in which most aged rums are placed. Something really, really special.

Such a rum is the El Dorado 25 year old, first seen in 1999 when the Millennium Edition came out. Just think of what that means. A full three years before the first stocks of the groundbreaking El Dorado 15 year old were put away (it came out in 1992 and so was set in motion in 1978), some farsighted visionary selected the barrels that held the rums which would eventually make their way into the first bottles of ED25. When the original blends were first casked, there were no personal computers, no cinema multiplexes, no ipods, cds, dvds or cell phones, and the premium rums that so dominate today’s high end market were barely a glimmer in someone’s eye. Five American presidents passed into and out of the White House while the casks slumbered and aged in DDL’s warehouses.

The ED 25 I reviewed here wasn’t the millenium edition but a more recent vintage (1980), and, perhaps as befits the pricey top end of the range, doesn’t skimp too much on the presentation (though I believe it could do better, and it seems to adhere to DDL’s philosophy of presentational minimalism). It arrives in a glass decanter quite unlike any other bottle in the El Dorado range, and fits tightly into a black cylindrical tin. The bottle is sealed with a glass-topped cork, firmly seated. Nice, very nice. Full brownie points for this, though it doesn’t equate to the bottle-lying-on-a-bed-of-satin in a blue box such as the Johnnie Walker Blue Label arrives with (and for a hundred bucks less for that one, you kinda wonder about that, but never mind).

The ED25 poured into the glass in a dark-brown cascade of liquid expense. At $300/bottle in Alberta (more in Toronto, I guarantee it, assuming it ever gets there), it was a pretty expensive shot no matter how little I decanted. On the other hand, it was worth it. Take the nose: Demerara rums are noted for thick, dark, molasses-based structure, and El Dorados pretty much pioneered the profile, but here, it was almost delicate. Somehow, DDL’s master blender managed to mute the inevitable alcohol sting of a 40% rum, dampened the sometimes excessive molasses scent, and created a complex nose that was a mixture of fresh brown sugar, caramel, orange, banana and assorted fruits. And I’m not talking about a mango, or apple or guava, but that mixture of fruits that gets into the best West Indian black cake served at Christmas time and weddings. Damn it was sexy. While I’d had the ED25 before, I had been in a hurry that day and trying it along with five other rums – so sampling it again under more controlled conditions permitted a more analytical tasting (if a less enjoyable one, given the absence of good friends), where notes I had missed the first time came through more clearly.

No discussion of El Dorado rums can be complete without mentioning their famous wooden stills, and the care DDL took to ensure the survival of the various stills from plantations that once produced their famous marques. Port Mourant, Uitvlugt (pronounced eye-flugt), Enmore, Versailles, LBI, Albion, Skeldon…the names are like a roll call of honour for marques now almost gone. These days only a few are in continuous commercial production (ICBU, PM and EHP are the most commonly found), none on the original estates. As the individual plantation distilleries closed down and were consolidated at Diamond Estate factory complex over the decades, DDL moved the entire still from the closed estate factory to Diamond. DDL operates eight different stills each with its own profile: six columnar stills, of which four are Savalle, and one is the last wooden Coffey still in existence; and two wooden pot stills, also the last in the world. From these still come rums with clear and definable characteristics that still reflect the tastes and characters of their original plantations, where they were once made.

The El Dorado 25 year old is a blend of rums from many of these stills: the Enmore wooden Coffey columnar still; the LBI and Albion Savalle stills; and the double wooden pot still from Port Mourant. Each brings its own distinct flavour to the table. And on the palate, they emerge like flowers in the desert after a rain. The rum emerging out of the blending of product from all these different stills was full-bodied, oily and coated the tongue from front to back. It was smoother than just about any other rum I had ever tried. I’m unfortunately not able to separate which taste emanates from the rum coming from which still, but I’ll tell you what I did taste: liquorice, caramel, molasses, brown sugar, burning canefields at harvest time, and baking spices, faint citrus together with the scent of freshly grated coconut. The tastes ran together in a dark, rich mélange that were enhanced with a sweet that may be the only negative I have to remark on this superb rum. I love the Demerara style – dark, full bodied and sweet – but the ED 25 is loaded with just a shade too much of the sugary stuff, and looking at my original tasting notes from six months ago, I see that I made exactly the same observation then. Beyond that, the thing is phenomenal.

The fade is similarly excellent. Long, smooth and with a gentle deep burn that releases the final fumes and tastes to the back of the throat in a voluptuous sigh of completion. This is without doubt one of the best goodbye kisses I’ve ever experienced from a rum, and I still think of it as a sort of baseline to which I compare many others. The loveliness of the complex nose, of taste reeking of class and sundowners, of a finish redolent of warm tropical nights on a moonlit shore, makes one want to laugh out loud with sheer delight.

At the top of the scale in any endeavour, ranking the best becomes problematic. When trying to assess the ED25, the relative comparisons are inevitable. There are certainly richer or more varied noses on other premium rums (English Harbour 25 is better, and I do have a soft spot for the Appleton 30); there are rums with more complexity (Mount Gay 1703); better body and taste (Flor de Cana 18, perhaps Clemente Tres Vieux for some), and for a finish, can anything beat the Gordon & MacPhail Jamaica 1941 58 yr old? But if you hold the “best” hostage to any one criterion, then you’re shortchanging the rankings, and will get nothing but vagueness. For a rum to ascend to greatness, it must be well-rounded, with near-excellence (if not actual brilliance) in all categories. Appearance, colour, body, taste, nose, balance, grace, emotional appeal, personal attraction and a certain timelessness…that’s the mitochondrial DNA of such a rum, and what comprises its core amino acids.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the El Dorado 25 year old. In the opinion of this Demerara-style-loving reviewer, it is, quite simply, one of the best rums of its kind ever made.

Update, May 2020: Clearly, in the years that passed between the time this exuberant review was written in 2010, and the time I tried another one in 2018, my opinion on its excellence changed (downwards).  But as a signpost in how preferences and an appreciations of a rum can change with time, this serves as both a useful signpost of “before” and a cautionary tale of starting with high end rums too early in one’s career before proper groundwork and wider experience is gained.